The juxtaposition of two events - this week's California fires and last Saturday's election of Bobby Jindal as governor of Louisiana - tells us something about what state government can do and what it cannot.
Michael Brown, the FEMA bureaucrat axed two years ago after the Katrina disaster, knows incompetence first-hand and can also recognize competence. He said California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger "knows what he's doing and his firefighters know how to establish a unified command structure."
Jindal won in Louisiana largely because he's seen as competent, in contrast to current governor Kathleen Blanco. Blanco fiddled while Katrina approached and did not allow the Red Cross to bring to the New Orleans Superdome water, food, and blankets that it had prepositioned for emergency situations. (She did not want to attact more people to the Superdome, so she let those who were there suffer.)
California officials are not putting up barriers to relief of those in need. For example, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams have been active both in the San Diego vicinity and in north Los Angeles County. Fifteen Salvation Army units have served tens of thousands of meals.
But the long-range question concerns building in disaster-prone areas, whether below-sea-level New Orleans or on brushy California hillsides. Actress Jamie Lee Curtis asked a good question about the fires at a conference in Long Beach, and then added a statement about free will: "We live in a drought, we build houses too close, and then we're shocked when this happens? This is not an act of God. This is an act of man."